Sunday, May 6, 2012

The End of History

For nearly a year now, I have been furiously listening to the History of Rome Podcast, trying to catch up to its most current postings. Now, just a few episodes short of my goal, I find out that the podcast's prolific author, Mike Duncan, is calling it quits. His wife is having a baby, right around the same time that Romulus Augustulus is being exiled in 476 AD, so he figured this was a good time to end it. I guess you've got to end it somewhere (unless you follow the theory that the Roman Empire never actually ended), so this is as good as any, but man, I'm going to miss these recordings.

I grew up receiving what I consider a pretty solid education, largely paid for by California taxpayers, but I somehow missed gaining (or retaining, anyway) any substantive knowledge about Rome. A disturbingly high percentage of the information I knew about ancient Rome up until last year was derived from the film "Gladiator" and one episode of "I, Claudius" a high school literature teacher decided to show us for reasons that now escape me. A year ago, I could maybe have named four Roman emperors, and one of them was Joaquin Phoenix. The History of Rome Podcast provided me with the education that I'd somehow missed.

I don't know too much about what Duncan does when he's not podcasting, but he's provided a real service to the world here and has created an impressive body of historical work. His approach is quite judicious, acknowledging disagreements among historians but not getting bogged down in arcane arguments, and managing to provide an impressive sense of narrative in each of his episodes. As I'd imagine he'd concede, the podcast is often a history of Roman emperors rather than of Rome; such is, I'm sure, a reflection of the available historical information. Duncan attempted to remedy this with a few outstanding episodes, such as his depiction of the daily life of a typical Roman in the 2nd century AD or  the wonderful Q&A session or the description of Diocletian's economic reforms and how they impacted tradesman for centuries to come.

I consider myself fundamentally improved thanks to the jogs and drives I spent listening to Mike's podcast, and I hope he'll be able to take on more of this in the future. I'll listen.

7 comments:

JHB said...

Wait -- does that mean you've never watched I Claudius other than that one episode? I'd highly recommend doing something about that.

Seth said...

At Duncan's recommendation (and yours), I watched "I Claudius" over the past few months. Good stuff. John Hurt must have had fun with that role.

Eric McGhee said...

I just listened to the last episode last night. Truly sad--I'd agree with everything you just said. On the up side, he claims he's going to start blogging on a completely different topic at some point in the future. However, if his experience with children is anything like mine, it'll be a while.

dmarks said...

"A year ago, I could maybe have named four Roman emperors, and one of them was Joaquin Phoenix."

Most Americans could probably also name Palpatine, and also the little guy who says "pizza pizza". So there you have 3.

dmarks said...

By the way, I actually read all of I Claudius, and would love to see it one day. Where can I find it aired or streamed?

Seth said...

I borrowed "I, Claudius" from my university's library. Maybe if we lobby Netflix, they'll put it up there.

Fisher-man said...

Thank you so much for recommending the podcast. I've had it in queue since you wrote this post over a year ago, but I finally made it and blew through the whole thing in a couple months. Mesmerizing and enriching all around.